Emerging Issues in Education
MANY people cite speaking to an audience as their biggest fear, and a fear of failure is often the root cause.
The ability to speak before a group of people is a valuable asset and an important life skill.
This is why public speaking causes so much anxiety and concern.
As the country joined the rest of the continent in celebrating the Day of the African child last week, the issue of children’s rights could not be ignored.
In expressing their challenges, children often fail to make themselves heard. Public speaking is therefore a skill that the schools are expected to nurture among the learners.
The good news is that, with thorough preparation and practice, students from ECD to tertiary level can overcome the nervousness and be able to express their concerns confidently.
Welcome to column “Emerging Issues in Education.”
This article has been prepared to help schools in improving public speaking skills among students.
Purpose of speeches
The general purpose of a speech is usually determined by the occasion in which the speech will be presented.
The first general purpose is to inform your audience.
In an informative speech, the presenter will share information about a particular person, place, object, process, concept, or topic such as the Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality or child abuse.
Occasions for which an informative speech would be presented include schools public speaking competitions.
The second purpose for public speaking is to persuade.
In a persuasive speech, the presenter will attempt to reinforce or change their audiences’ beliefs, attitudes, feelings, or values.
Those who market their products usually use persuasive speeches.
The last general purpose is to commemorate or entertain.
These types of speeches often strengthen the bonds between audience members and intend to amuse audiences through humour, stories, or illustrations.
Examples of this purpose include a speech at a prize giving day or at graduation and or when presenting an award.
The importance of public speaking
Public speaking is important not only for regular presentations in front of a group, but there are plenty of situations where good public speaking skills can help you advance your career and create opportunities.
For example, one might have to deliver a vote of thanks, present a speech after receiving an award and many other occasions.
Good public speaking skills are important in other areas of your life, as well.
In short, being a good public speaker can enhance your reputation, boost your self-confidence, and open up countless opportunities.
While good skills can open doors, poor ones can close them.
Strategies for becoming a better speaker
In order to be a good public speaker, you need to plan appropriately.
First, make sure that you understand the theme given for the public speaking competition.
Planning involves researching on the topic.
Research platforms include the internet and any sources that are well researched.
Planning also helps to have a good, thorough understanding of your theme.
From the beginning of your speech, you need to intrigue your audience.
For example, you could start with an interesting statistic, headline, or fact that pertains to what you’re talking about and resonates with your audience.
You can also use story telling as a powerful opener.
Remember that not all occasions when you need to speak in public will be scheduled.
You can make good impromptu speeches by having ideas and mini-speeches pre-prepared.
There is a good reason why the saying, “practice makes perfect” is common.
You simply cannot be a confident, compelling speaker without practice.
To get practice, seek opportunities to speak in front of others.
It can be argued that gone are the days when school assemblies were solely conducted by teachers.
Schools should allow the students to volunteer leading assemblies.
The earlier they are advised in time, the more time they have to put it together and practice.
Engaging the audience
When you speak, try to engage your audience.
This makes you feel less isolated as a speaker and keeps everyone involved with your message.
If appropriate, ask leading questions targeted to individuals or groups, and encourage people to participate and ask questions.
However, this skill is used by seasoned public speakers.
The audience may not respond to your questions.
Do not worry about mistakes, instead proceed as if nothing wrong happened.
What to avoid
Keep in mind that some words reduce your power as a speaker.
For instance, think about how these sentences sound: “I just want to add that I think we can meet the Sustainable Development Goals” or “I just think the first Sustainable Development Goal is a good one.”
The words “just” and “I think” limit your authority and conviction.
Don’t use them.
A similar word is “actually,” as in, “Actually, I would like to add that we were living in poverty”
When you use “actually,” it conveys a sense of submissiveness or even surprise.
Instead, say what things are.
“We can meet the Sustainable Development Goals if we put our hands together” is clear and direct.
Also, pay attention to how you are speaking.
If you are nervous, you might talk quickly.
This increases the chances that you will trip over your words, or say something you do not mean.
Force yourself to slow down by breathing deeply.
Do not be afraid to gather your thoughts; pauses are an important part of conversation, and they make you sound confident, natural, and authentic.
Whilst reading the main ideas that you wish to convey is an acceptable part of public speaking, avoid reading word-for-word from your notes.
Instead, make a list of important points on cue cards, or, as you get better at public speaking, try to memorize what you are going to say.
You can still refer back to your cue notes when you need them.
Pay attention to body language
Your body language will give your audience constant, subtle clues about your inner state.
If you are nervous, or if you do not believe in what you are saying, the audience can soon know.
Pay attention to your body language: stand up straight; take deep breaths, look people in the eye, and smile if what you are saying is pleasant to hear, show sadness if driving home sad examples.
Do not lean on one leg or use gestures that feel unnatural.
Pay attention to your gestures.
Do they appear natural or forced?
Make sure that people can see them, especially if you’re standing behind a podium.
Standing still at the same position may not attract the attention of the audience, move around but be calculative.
Many people prefer to speak behind a podium when giving presentations.
While podiums can be useful for holding notes, they put a barrier between you and the audience.
They can also become a hiding place from the dozens or hundreds of eyes that are on you.
Instead of standing behind a podium, walk around and use gestures to engage the audience.
This movement and energy will also come through in your voice, making it more active and passionate.
Coping with nerves
When we have to speak in front of others, we can envision terrible things happening.
Although these symptoms can be annoying or even debilitating, they can be overcome.
First, make an effort to stop thinking about yourself, your nervousness, and your fear.
Instead, focus on your audience, what you are saying is “about them.”
Remember that you are in a competition, or educating them in some way, and your message is really important.
Concentrate on the audience’s wants and needs, instead of your own.
Crowds are more intimidating than individuals, so think of your speech as a conversation with one person.
Listen to your speeches
Whenever possible, record the students’ presentations and speeches.
Recordings improve their speaking skills dramatically as they listen to themselves.
As they listen to themselves, they notice any verbal stalls, such as “um” or “like.”
In the next edition of The Manica Post, we will present the importance and principles of public speaking.